Monthly Archives: January 2017

Trump Clusterfuck Continues

People are calling this administration — not even two weeks old — a slow-motion trainwreck.

I disagree.  There is nothing slow-motion about this at all.  It seems like every 6 hours there is something unprecedented happening, being met with bipartisan criticism.  This is not normal.

Last night, it was the firing of the Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who reasonably took the position that the immigration ban of Trump’s executive order was illegal. Not only did Trump fire Yates, but the White House statement announcing her firing attacked her personally, calling her “an Obama Administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration” who “betrayed the Department of Justice.” That’s a highly unusual if not unprecedented statement for a sitting president to make about a personnel change. Ironically, it was non-attorney political hacks in the Trump Administration who were calling Yates a “political hack” apparently unaware (or unconcerned) that we follow the laws and the Constitution in this country, and that Yates did what she was supposed to do.

The question has come up in many circles and in many different ways — are we being played?  Is the incompetence a feature, rather than a bug,.of the Trump Administration?  Are we being distracted by bad things so that WORSE things can be done? Are they trying to foster “outrage fatigue”?

Unlike many, I don’t think these guys are performing some hyper-level jedi mind trick on America.  I think they really are this incompetent.  Yes, I think Steve Bannon is into destruction of politics as we know it — he has said as much in interviews.  He wants to burn the system down in the hopes that a white nationalist system can replace it.  But no, I don’t think this is working.  Here’s why, as stated today in the Washington Post:

While Trump/Bannon wants to make it seem that it is only the media against them, as well as paid protesters (yes, they think all those millions are paid), the truth is that even conservative institutions are concerned.  Last week, for example., Trump took credit for the Dow clearing 20,000.  But after the disasterous immigration ban over the weekend, look how jittery Wall Street is.

I don’t think this cam be maintained for much longer.

The Kinda Crazy, Somewhat Uplifting, Complete Unprecedented Weekend Of Trump

On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order that bans some refugees and immigrants from entering the US.

It hits ‘pause’ on Syrian refugees coming into the US. And also temporarily shuts the door on citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Initially, the ban even applied to people with valid visas or green cards. Over the weekend, at least 100 travelers were detained at airports across the country. Including an Iraqi man who once worked as an interpreter for the US gov. So the ACLU sued the White House. And a federal judge blocked anyone who was being held at US airports from being deported. Thousands of people protested across the country, especially at airports.

That the ban may be unconstitutional because it could violate religious freedoms. See: prioritizing letting in Christian refugees coming from places like Syria. Plus, some experts say the order won’t help protect the US, since people from these banned countries aren’t the ones who have carried out deadly attacks in America in recent years. And some people — including GOP lawmakers — say Trump’s move might end up helping terrorist groups recruit more members in the future.

The ban still stands. But the White House has backtracked juussst a little bit. Yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said that green card holders aren’t affected by the ban. Meanwhile, more than a dozen Attorneys General are saying ‘see you in court, Mr. President.’

America is a country built by immigrants and religious freedom is a constitutional right. Even though Trump said yesterday that the US has always been the “land of the free,” his moves have some people worried that the founding principles of the US could be at risk.

The ban is arbitrary, which is a nice way of saying it has no basis in reality.  Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015.

Zero.

Six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis, and one Yemeni have been convicted of attempting or executing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during that time period — so we HAVE been catching them.

And more than that, it actually CREATES a security risk…

Oh, but that wasn’t all.

(1) Reince Priebus issued a statement that the omission of Jews from the statement for Holocaust Remembrance Day was deliberate and is not regretted.

(2) Rudy Giuliani told Fox News that the intent of yesterday’s order was very much a ban on Muslims, described in those words, and he was among the people Trump asked how they could find a way to do this legally.

(3) CNN has a detailed story (heavily sourced) about the process by which this ban was created and announced. Notable in this is that the DHS’ lawyers objected to the order, specifically its exclusion of green card holders, as illegal, and also pressed for there to be a grace period so that people currently out of the country wouldn’t be stranded — and they were personally overruled by Bannon and Stephen Miller. Also notable is that career DHS staff, up to and including the head of Customs & Border Patrol, were kept entirely out of the loop until the order was signed.

(4) The Guardian is reporting (heavily sourced) that the “mass resignations”of nearly all senior staff at the State Department on Thursday were not, in fact, resignations, but a purge ordered by the White House. As the diagram below (by Emily Roslin v Praze) shows, this leaves almost nobody in the entire senior staff of the State Department at this point.

The seniormost staff of the Department of State. Blue X’s are unfilled positions; red X’s are positions which were purged. Note that the “filled” positions are not actually confirmed yet.

As the Guardian points out, this has an important and likely not accidental effect: it leaves the State Department entirely unstaffed during these critical first weeks, when orders like the Muslim ban (which they would normally resist) are coming down.

The article points out another point worth highlighting: “In the past, the state department has been asked to set up early foreign contacts for an incoming administration. This time however it has been bypassed, and Trump’s immediate circle of Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Reince Priebus are making their own calls.”

(5) Yesterday witnessed a reorganization of the National Security Council: Bannon and Priebus now have permanent seats on the Principals’ Committee; the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have both been demoted to only attending meetings where they are told that their expertise is relevant; the Secretary of Energy and the US representative to the UN were kicked off the committee altogether (in defiance of the authorizing statute, incidentally).

All of this is objectively horrific, but there are some silver linings, most notably, the public protests.  They sprang quickly, they sprang fast, and they were huge!  it felt almost like Arab Spring.  And it makes the Trump White House very out of touch, as well as corrupt.

You do have to wonder how Steve Bannon is expected to continue to shine in Trump’s eyes.  He has not delivered the adoring masses to Trump, as shown by the inauguration size, as well as the size of the protests.  Photo ops about great executive orders turn into catastrophe.  It’s a constant state of damage control over there.  Trump’s vanity and idiocy are sufficient that it may take him some time to realize this. But once he does, it’s bedtime for Bannon, who will be defenestrated without ceremony.

Well, actually, the machinations of Bannon may have brought ONE person out: Six people were killed last night in a terrorist attack on a Quebec City mosque.

Right wing blogs and media instantly jumped to the conclusion that Islamists were responsible for the shootings, as they always do. But today we’re learning more about the sole suspect in this terrible attack: he’s a far right anti-immigration fan of Donald Trump and French fascist leader Marine Le Pen.  This guy:

Former NC Governor Pat McCrory Needs Protection From Words

News & Observer:

Does former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory need protection? Do all current and former public officials? At least one state senator thinks so.

After a video was posted on Facebook Friday showing a group of people following McCrory during a trip to Washington, D.C., for inaugural weekend, chanting “Shame!” and calling him a bigot, Sen. Dan Bishop of Charlotte says he’ll introduce legislation to protect public officials.

The proposed legislation would “make it a crime to threaten, intimidate, or retaliate against a present or former North Carolina official in the course of, or on account of, the performance of his or her duties,” Bishop said.

“Because lines are being crossed,” Bishop, a Republican who represents the 39th District in the North Carolina Senate, wrote in an email from his Senate campaign account.

Bishop was one of the sponsors of House Bill 2, or “the bathroom bill” which McCrory signed into law. The bill was criticized for nullifying local non-discrimination ordinances statewide, directing transgender people to use restrooms and locker rooms matching the gender on their birth certificate in government-owned buildings and initially revoking the right to sue in state court for discrimination.

Bishop calls the group of people of indeterminate number “a chanting mob” and “ubiquitous leftist rioters” and wonders whether the “mob fell upon the former governor by coincidence or if they stalked him.”

Bishop said such behavior should come with a five-year prison sentence and said he’ll introduce the legislation to make it so in North Carolina, similar to an ordinance in the District of Columbia.

“So should it be in North Carolina,” he wrote. “This is dangerous. Jim Hunt, Bev Purdue and other governors never faced riotous mobs in their post-service, private lives, without personal security.”

Bishop said he also will urge his fellow legislators “to take other appropriate steps to guarantee the personal safety of Gov. McCrory by all means necessary.”

This is the video:

Now, whatever you think of the McCrory or the protesters, there is this little thing called the First Amendment.  But I won’t lecture here.  This State Senator ought to know better.

Emoluments Lawsuit Against Trump To Be Filed Today

New York Times:

WASHINGTON — A team of prominent constitutional scholars, Supreme Court litigators and former White House ethics lawyers intends to file a lawsuit Monday morning alleging that President Trump is violating the Constitution by allowing his hotels and other business operations to accept payments from foreign governments.

The lawsuit is among a barrage of legal actions against the Trump administration that have been initiated or are being planned by major liberal advocacy organizations. Such suits are among the few outlets they have to challenge the administration now that Republicans are in control of the government.

In the new case, the lawyers argue that a provision in the Constitution known as the Emoluments Clause bans payments from foreign powers like the ones to Mr. Trump’s companies. They cite fears among the framers of the Constitution that United States officials could be corrupted by gifts or payments.

The suit, which will not seek any monetary damages, will ask a federal court in New York to order Mr. Trump to stop taking payments from foreign government entities. Such payments, it says, include those from patrons at Trump hotels and golf courses; loans for his office buildings from certain banks controlled by foreign governments; and leases with tenants like the Abu Dhabi tourism office, a government enterprise.

“The framers of the Constitution were students of history,” said Deepak Gupta, one of the lawyers behind the suit. “And they understood that one way a republic could fail is if foreign powers could corrupt our elected leaders.”

The president’s son Eric Trump, who is an executive vice president of the Trump Organization, said the company had taken more steps than required by law to avoid legal exposure, such as agreeing to donate any profits collected at Trump-owned hotels that come from foreign government guests to the United States Treasury.

“This is purely harassment for political gain, and, frankly, I find it very, very sad,” he said in an interview on Sunday.

The president’s lawyers have argued that the constitutional provision does not apply to fair-market payments, such as a standard hotel room bill, and is intended only to prevent federal officials from accepting a special consideration or gift from a foreign power.

“No one would have thought when the Constitution was written that paying your hotel bill was an emolument,” one of the lawyers, Sheri A. Dillon, a partner at Morgan Lewis, said at a news conference this month.

The legal team filing the lawsuit includes Laurence H. Tribe, a Harvard constitutional scholar; Norman L. Eisen, an Obama administration ethics lawyer; and Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California, Irvine. Among the others are Richard W. Painter, an ethics counsel in the administration of George W. Bush; Mr. Gupta, a Supreme Court litigator who has three cases pending before the court; and Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor and former congressional candidate who has been studying and writing about the Emoluments Clause for nearly a decade.

Ms. Teachout said the one place of potential concern was a nation like China, which rents space at Trump Tower in New York and is a major lender to an office building in New York that Mr. Trump controls in part.

Foreign governments, Ms. Teachout and other ethics experts warn, could rent out rooms in Trump hotels as a way to send a message to the Trump family. “If you think other countries are not going to try to leverage relationships with Trump’s companies to influence trade or military policy, that is naïve,” she said.

But Andy Grewal, a University of Iowa law school professor, argued in an academic paper published last week that a payment to a hotel owned by the Trump family, like the Trump International Hotel in Washington, would not violate the Emoluments Clause because the money is paid to a corporate entity and not to Mr. Trump directly.

“There is no connection between the payment and performance of services by the president personally,” Mr. Grewal said.

“It would be a lot of fun to watch,” he said of the lawsuit, “but I imagine it will be kicked out.”

Mr. Eisen said the legal team intended to use the lawsuit to try to get a copy of Mr. Trump’s federal tax returns, which are needed to properly assess what income or other payments or loans Mr. Trump has received from foreign governments.

Couple key takeaways:

(1) They will seek Trump’s tax returns.  Which is good, but it doesn’t mean they will necessarily become public.

(2) Trump’s aides say he is not violating the Constitution’s gift ban, and his conflict plan donates any profits from his foreign country hotel business to charity.  The donation to charity, however, does not fix the problem.

(3) The biggest obstacle is standing.  CREW must show that is has actual injury from Trump’s actions.  This, I think, is going to be difficult.

This just happened:

President Trump

It is 12:50 pm EST. I had to type “President Trump” as the title of this post, because… well, I had to let it sink it.  If felt awful.

He’s been president for 50 minutes.

I don’t have much to say.  I said a lot on Facebook, which I will reprint here:

Please indulge (or ignore) my thoughts about you-know-what, keeping in mind that I have been pretty much wrong about everything my entire life but especially this political season:

At some point during the campaign, Aimee Mann wrote a song called “Can’t You Tell?” in which she got into the head of Donald Trump. In the song, Aimee/Trump sings the refrain:

Isn’t anybody going to stop me?
I don’t want this job
I don’t want this job, my god

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think it is prescient. I don’t think Trump wants this job. I think he wanted to win the election, and I think he wants the glory (as opposed to power) that comes with the job. But he doesn’t want the job itself. You can tell by the victory lap of large-audience speaking events. You can tell because he never did the so-called “pivot” to “being presidential” that everyone expected. You can tell because of his Tweets about the inauguration guests (celebrities, John Lewis, etc) rather than policy. You can tell because he has already thought of his slogan for the re-election campaign (true!).

This man WANTS to be a figurehead president. This man WILL BE a figurehead president. He’ll champion America (i.e., himself) and maybe “make a few deals” (whatever the hell that means), but as for anything resembling actual governance or public service? I don’t expect a lot in that area from Trump. He’ll delegate that.

Is Figurehead Trump a good or bad thing?

Well, it’s good in the sense that the Hitler comparisons fall by the wayside. I don’t think he’s going to be ultra-fascist, although that word gets thrown around a lot. He might come down hard on the press with some attempts at unconstitutional restrictions (since that bears on his figurehead plans)…. but other than that, I think Trump will prove historically to be a WEAK president. I’m sure this is the perception already held by many in Washington and the world (e.g., Putin).

What we’re left with then is a struggle to fill the vacuum left by Trump’s limited interest in public service. Paul Ryan (through Chief of Staff Priebus), Steve Bannon, Ivanka Trump and Mike Pence will certainly attempt to “work” Trump internally. They will often be at cross-purposes, and I expect that conflict to escalate in the first two years.

For those of us on the progressive side of things, we can just stand at the sidelines with bemusement as the dysfunction spills into the headlines. By the way, you’ll want to root for Ivanka, but in the end, I think the Ryan/Priebus wing (the so-called “establishment”) will prevail. Trump and Bannon have about as much chance of changing the Washington establishment as I do changing the NFL from within. Plus, Ryan and Priebus have home field advantage and all that.

And THAT’S where we need to be vigilant. It’s not Trump we have to watch out for (I believe) — it’s Paul Ryan and the Republican Congress. After years of obstructionism and being the party of “no”, the GOP is primed to pass (or repeal) anything and everything they want. This is their last and best chance for the much-vaunted “permanent conservative revolution.”

Good news: I don’t think they have as much support as they think, and Obamacare is the shining Exhibit A. Everybody “hated” it for so long, and now that it is on the verge of repeal — where it is actually PALPABLY going away — its approval rating is at its highest ever. So, when millions of people can’t afford health insurance, or when other changes are made that hurt Americans, please don’t be afraid to say to your Republican friends and family, “THIS is what you voted for”.

Get ready to say that a lot.

But what I would like to see most in the next four(?) years a return to respect for excellence. I don’t know what happened, but somewhere in this country’s recent journey, we’ve lost respect for competence. People talk about the “Washington elite” and the “media elite” like they are talking about lepers. When was being “elite” a bad thing? If I need surgery, I want an elite surgeon, right? Somehow, though, we have come to revere a nutjob with a blog as a better journalist than people like Cronkite or Rather. Or that duck hunters are worthy of our praise and attention because they’re on television. Or that failed rich businessmen who have not done anything by way of public service would make for better politicians because “America needs to be run like a business” (a ridiculous trope, as we shall all soon learn).

So it is my hope that, going forward, we will strive to be excellent in whatever we do — as a teacher or parent or lawyer or citizen. We should also expect excellence in others, especially those who serve us in government. Do NOT suffer fools gladly, but rather — expose them for what they are. And then seek the alternative. Or BE the alternative. Be excellent. No more noobs. In media. In government. In arts. In life. BE EXCELLENT!

A final thought directed to the #NeverHillarys on the far left: you are the noobs of the progressive movement. Your ideological purity is part of the reason the country is about to go backward. I know many of you grew up in a world where everything is faster and you can become famous from a single YouTube video or one season on a reality show. But politics in this country does not work that way. In fact, it was designed to be a slow deliberative process. On purpose. One election never brings about the change we want. One person cannot ever make the country what we want, no matter what office he or she holds. Politics is a game of attrition, and each election moves us in a direction. We’re going in the wrong direction now and your antics haven’t helped. I hope you remain vocal and passionate, but before you protest or throw rocks or whatever, understand the world you live in.

I don’t have much to say about Trump’s inauguration speech.  I didn’t see it, and I only glanced at the prepared text.  It seemed more like a campaign speech, full of promises.  it wasn’t divisive, but that’s only because Trump didn’t write it.  It tried to use “we” a lot, but the only ones listening and cheering were them.  It was a speech for Red America.

He used one line that people seem to attach to: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he said.

This American Carnage is either a really pad NPR store, a punk rock band, or some fancy Canal Street clothing outlet.

Here’s some Inauguration Day notes:

  • At 11:59 am eastern, the official White House website had a lengthy information page about the threat of climate change and the steps the federal government had taken to fight it. At noon, at the instant Donald Trump took office, the page was gone, as well as any mention of climate change or global warming.
  • The White House was lit in a rainbow last night.  Love and defiance.
  • GM is letting 2,000 workers go…. today.

And as of today, we still have many unresolved Trump conflicts.

Here are examples of potential conflicts that remain from the New York Times:

Trump Not Liked

From Gallup:

President-elect Donald Trump approaches Inauguration Day with a significantly lower favorable rating than his three immediate predecessors received when they were presidents-elect. Trump’s 40% favorable rating is roughly half of what Barack Obama enjoyed before his inauguration in 2009 (78%) and is much lower than the pre-inaugural ratings for George W. Bush (62%) and Bill Clinton (66%).

***

Of the four most recent incoming presidents, Trump is the only president-elect whose unfavorable rating outweighs his favorable score; a majority of 55% of Americans hold a negative view of Trump, compared with 18% who did so for Obama, 26% for Clinton and 36% for Bush. Gallup has asked favorable and unfavorable ratings for key figures in this format since 1992, so only comparisons to Clinton, Bush and Obama are available.

He also is more unpopular within his own party than his modern-day predecessors.

Still, he’s not as bad as Lincoln was.  I mean, half the country literally seceded over that election!

The Bombshell Report That Russia Can Blackmail Trump, Explained

There’s an enormous amount we don’t yet know about CNN’s bombshell report that US intelligence agencies believe Russia has “compromising personal and financial information” on President-elect Donald Trump and that his campaign was in direct contact with with Russian intermediaries before the election.

We don’t know who CNN’s sources are or if those people’s information is accurate. We don’t know which Trump aides were allegedly dealing with the Russians or whether those Russians worked for Vladimir Putin’s government. And we don’t know the answer to the biggest question of them all: just what does Russia have on Trump?

“So while people are being delicate about discussing wholly unproven allegations, the document is at the front of everyone’s minds as they ponder the question: Why is Trump so insistent about vindicating Russia from the hacking charges that everyone else seems to accept?” Benjamin Wittes, Susan Hennessey, and Quina Jurecic wrote in a post for the Lawfare blog.

There is one thing, though, that we can say with absolute certainty. If the allegations are true, they will spark criminal investigations and the types of Congressional probes that could end Trump’s presidency before it fully begins. If the allegations are false, Trump will accurately be able to say that he’d been slandered by a politicized intelligence community looking for ways of undermining his legitimacy.

Trump’s weeks-long war with the CIA means that this kind of moment may have been inevitable: after weeks of quiet sniping, sources inside the agency or familiar with its work have responded by leaking something truly and genuinely explosive.

This is “news” NOT because of the actual allegation in the memos, but because Trump and Obama were briefed on them last week after US intelligence looked into it, suggesting some credibility.  Furthermore, the Guardian is reporting that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (FISA) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation. But again, the news is that at least the FBI thought there was enough credibility in the memos to go to the FISA court in the first place.

A lot of people have joked about whether Russia had something on Trump. Turns out that it might

Here’s what we know. Late on Tuesday afternoon, CNN reported that the heads of America’s top intelligence agencies had showed Trump evidence that the Russians had compromising information on him. The allegations came from unsubstantiated memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative that had been in circulation since last summer but that US spy agencies had only recently deemed “credible.”

According to CNN, Sen. John McCain passed a full set of the memos to FBI Director Jim Comey last month. The New York Times reported that top intelligence officials have also briefed President Obama, the top leaders of the House and Senate, and the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the information from the memos even though none of it has been proven true:

The decision of top intelligence officials to give the president, the president-elect and the so-called Gang of Eight — Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress and the intelligence committees — what they know to be unverified, defamatory material was extremely unusual.

After the CNN report, Buzzfeed published the actual dossier, which includes the allegation that Russia’s FSB, the successor to the KGB, believed it had “compromised Trump through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him.” More specifically, the dossier alleges that Russia had information that Trump engaged in “perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the FSB” and had been recorded having sex with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel.

Zack Beauchamp at Vox notes that there are three other less salacious but potentially more damaging explanations of what Russia may have on Trump, and of why the president-elect would have have been so worried about its release. First, proof that Trump isn’t as rich as he claims. Second, evidence that Trump’s campaign directly coordinated with a Russian government hell-bent on ensuring his election. And third, that Trump’s business dealings with Russia — and the amount he may owe Russian investors in his company — is far, far greater than we think.

Trump took to Twitter Tuesday night to flatly deny the CNN report (and later take a shot at BuzzFeed):

It may be a while until we know if Trump is right or if the CNN report is accurate. In the meantime, the president-elect has a different problem entirely: He’s taken so many jarringly pro-Kremlin positions that something that would seem too ludicrous for Hollywood — Russian spies preparing to potentially blackmail an American president — seems like a semi-plausible explanation.

Astute readers will note that nobody has suggested what the “compromising information” actually is.  That is because only Buzzfeed published the actual dossier.  Other news outlets are not doing so, saying (correctly) that the allegations are unverified (I don’t recall them being so queasy when it came to leaked John Podesta emails, but that’s another commentary).

Since *I* am not a journalist, I am happy to include the dossier with this post, and let the reader read all the salacious “compromising information” that Russia has on Trump, allegedly.  I say again, ALLEGEDLY.  Those who have read it focus on the “golden showers” aspect of it, because kink.  But there are far more serious allegations in there, including one in which Trump and members of his campaign staff colluded with Russia on the hacking and Wikileaks in exchange for a non-interventionist policy on Russia and the Ukraine invasion.  That’s treason.

Anyway, dossier is below the fold.  Back to the issue at hand.

Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin — and war on the CIA — starts to make sense if you believe he was worried about being blackmailed by Russia

One of the enduring mysteries of the 2016 election is how Republican voters who have for decades venerated Ronald Reagan for defeating the Soviet Union got so strongly behind a pro-Russian candidate like Trump.

During the campaign, the president-elect praised Putin’s strength as a leader, brushed aside concerns about Putin’s abysmal human rights record, hinted that he might recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and talked about leaving NATO entirely or opting to ignore America’s legal obligation to defend any NATO member who comes under Russian attack.

Trump’s pro-Russian positioning goes all the way back to the Republican convention, when his campaign softened the party platform’s language on Ukraine to remove all reference about providing weapons to Kiev so it could protect itself from Russia. A short time later, Trump hinted to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he was fine with Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

“The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were,” Trump said.

One of Trump’s former campaign managers, meanwhile, had been a paid consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine like its former president, Viktor Yanukovych. The campaign manager, Paul Manafort, later resigned as part of an internal campaign shakeup.

Trump himself has spent months praising Putin. “I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an ‘A’ and our president is not doing so well,” Trump said during an NBC forum in September.

He has also effusively praised Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria: “What’s wrong with Russia bombing the hell out of ISIS and these other crazies so we don’t have to spend a million dollars a bomb?” Never mind that Russian bombs have targeted the relatively moderate opposition more than ISIS, and that the point has been to prop up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. With Russian help, Assad’s forces just finished reconquering the rebel stronghold of Aleppo.

Trump’s rhetoric about Russia has been even more startling since November 8. He has spent weeks mocking the CIA’s conclusion that Putin tried to interfere in the election to help him win the White House by pointing to the spy agency’s faulty intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War. When US spies personally briefed Trump on their findings about Russia, he issued a remarkable statement that barely mentioned Russia. Instead, Trump lumped it in with China and other unnamed countries and outside groups as potential perpetrators.

Trump’s complete refusal to admit that Russia interfered in the election has baffled and infuriated many Republican lawmakers, who have called for Congressional investigations into Moscow’s activities during the campaign and condemned Putin as a quasi-dictator. Just this week, five Republican senators said they’d back a Democratic bill that would make it harder for Trump to lift the punishing US sanctions on Russia.

It would make a bit more sense if Russia did in fact have something on Trump that was so big and so embarrassing that he would do Putin’s bidding to ensure it never became public. Given that Trump has survived the release of an audio recording of him bragging about sexual assault, it would presumably have to be something huge.

It’s hard to predict exactly what will come next. Congressional Republicans say they want to probe Russia’s interference in the election, but it’s not clear if this will be enough to make them stop consistently rejecting Democratic calls to create bipartisan investigative panels modeled on the 9/11 commission. Regardless of whether the CNN story holds up, the leak is sure to further fuel Trump’s war with the nation’s intelligence agencies. Given the array of threats facing the US, that may be one of the most dangerous outcomes of all.

UPDATE:  NBC is reporting that Trump never got the briefing and did NOT receive the two-page summary:

A senior U.S. intelligence official with knowledge of the preparation for the meeting with Trump told NBC News that the president-elect was not briefed on the so-called two-page addendum to the dossier originally generated as part of anti-Trump Republican opposition research.

Multiple officials say that the summary was included in the material prepared for the briefers, but the senior official told NBC News that the briefing was oral and no actual documents were handed to the Trump team.

“Intel and law enforcement officials agree that none of the investigations have found any conclusive or direct link between Trump and the Russian government period,” the senior official said.

According to the official, the two-page summary about the unsubstantiated material made available to the briefers was to provide context, should they need it, to draw the distinction for Trump between analyzed intelligence and unvetted “disinformation.”

The briefers also had available to them unvetted “disinformation” about the Clinton Foundation, although that was not shared with Trump.

Thoughts On Megyn Kelly Coming To NBC

It is no surprise to me that Megyn Kelly has decided to leave Fox. It’s not a secret how unhappy she had become at Fox in the wake of her high-profile feud with Donald Trump and revelations she had accused Ailes of sexual harassment. Her relationships with Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity in particular had completely broken down, one Fox host said.

She’ll be giving up the most loyal audience in cable news for new set of platforms that she’ll have to largely build herself. At NBC, Kelly will anchor an Oprah-like daytime show, launch a new Sunday night news magazine, and contribute to the network’s political coverage. The track record for talented anchors launching daytime programs hasn’t been good (see: Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira, Anderson Cooper), and no Fox News star has successfully crossed over to the mainstream before. But Kelly’s prodigious talents as a broadcaster, not to mention her canny media instincts, could help her defy the trend.

I think Kelly is smarter than the network she was on. Which is saying something.

I would LIKE to think she was merely playing the Fox game, and that she isn’t, as conservatives go, very repugnant.

On the other hand, I have been reminded of this….

December 2010: Kelly compares describing “illegal immigrants” as undocumented to calling “rape nonconsensual sex.”

And this….

December 2013: Weighing in on a story by an African American woman describing the pain she felt as a child when she constantly saw only white Santas, Kelly said, “Santa just is white…Jesus was a white man.”

And so on….

December 2015: During a discussion about Obama’s statement in which he made a distinction between ISIS and Islam, Kelly argued that denying ISIS is Islamic is denying “reality.”

But who knows?  Maybe she was following her executive producer.  Anyway, I wish her well on the side of angels.

NOW They Are Asking What Would Happen If Obamacare Is Repealed

Winning is easy; governing is hard.

It is easy to get people – especially Republicans — to hate Obamacare.  For one thing, it has the name of the 44th President attached to it.  That alone gets many people to dislike it.

On top of that, it DOES have many problems.  Rates this past year jumped bigly, and many plans now have high deductibles.  (To be fair, the health-care premium increased 31% from 2006-2011, pre-Obamacare, and only 20% with Obamacare over the 5 year period of 2011-2016 — but some states have been hit hard.)

Also, in many counties now, there is only one choice of healthcare plan.

But the Affordable Care Act (see, it’s not Obamacare now!) is not the “total disaster” that Trump says it is. About 16.6 million people now have health insurance — people who wouldn’t have it otherwise.  Denial of insurance because of pre-existing conditions is a thing of the past.

The ACA also allows states to expand Medicaid eligibility, with the federal government paying most of the cost for new beneficiaries.

Finally, the ACA also prohibits insurers from charging different premiums to individuals based on their health. Everyone is in one big insurance pool, sharing in the average cost. Tax credits to help people buy private insurance.

The problems hit because more sick people enrolled than insurers expected when they initially set their premiums in 2014. That’s a big reason why premiums are rising more quickly for 2017 — with benchmarks increasing 22% on average nationally and 8% in California. Some insurers have exited the market, and Obamacare consumers face fewer choices. But the hope is that these higher premiums represent a one-time market correction rather than a sign of worsening trends to come.

But Republicans want to repeal.  They think it is what the people want.  Even some of the people think it is what they want.  It’s the most unpopular popular law.

The problem is, what happens when the GOP tries to change the ACA?

That, of course, depends on HOW they do it, and what they replace it with.  All indications are that they want to keep the popular parts of the ACA (the ban on pre-existing conditions, and the part where you can be on your parents’ plan if under age 26), but remove other parts (the individual mandate which penalizes people who don’t buy health insurance).

And how will they do this? It looks like they may use a budget maneuver known as a reconciliation bill, and through this, repeal parts of the ACA. The advantage of such a bill is that it cannot be filibustered in the Senate, meaning it can be passed with 51 votes instead of 60. The disadvantage is that it can be used only to make changes that have a direct effect on federal spending or taxes. So, for example, a reconciliation bill cannot repeal the ACA’s insurance market regulations, including protections for people with pre-existing conditions. But it can repeal the law’s premium subsidies and the individual mandate.

Unfortunately, this is going to wreak havoc and produce a death spiral in the individual health insurance market. With guaranteed insurance for people with pre-existing conditions but no subsidies or individual mandate, premiums could skyrocket. Or, more likely, insurers simply would exit the market. Why risk losses when the whole law is getting repealed anyway? The upshot would be canceled coverage with no other options for people buying in the ACA’s marketplaces (like healthcare.gov or Covered California), as well as those buying directly from insurers, where the same rules apply.

So what Republicans MUST do is hold off on the reconciliation bill until they have a replacement in mind for the ACA.  That presents a political problem though, because repealing Obamacare was designated a first priority.

In short, here’s the dilemma for Republicans: YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE INDIVIDUAL MANDATE IF YOU WANT TO KEEP THE BAN ON PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS.  Period.  It’s that simple.  If you don’t, then premiums will go through the roof, since people will drop their insurance and insurance companies won’t have the money to cover all the people with pre-existing conditions.

The only other alternative?  Single payer.  But the GOP won’t touch that.

So the GOP is in a bit of a bind.  Maybe that’s why this happened:

In a Tuesday letter to congressional leaders, the American Medical Association (AMA) came out against plans floated by Republicans to quickly repeal Obamacare but delay fully replacing the law.

The AMA told congressional leaders that they must reveal their plans to replace the Affordable Care Act before repealing the legislation.

“[W]e believe that before any action is taken through reconciliation or other means that would potentially alter coverage, policymakers should lay out for the American people, in reasonable detail, what will replace current policies. Patients and other stakeholders should be able to clearly compare current policy to new proposals so they can make informed decisions about whether it represents a step forward in the ongoing process of health reform,” James L. Madara, the CEO of the AMA wrote in the letter.

The GOP, no doubt, wants to dismantle Obamacare but doesn’t want to get the blame.  The ball is definitely in their court.  They’re like the dog that caught the bus by the bumper — not sure what to do.

But it ain’t looking good for the dog.